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Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
The Government deserve congratulations on their commitment to making a proper contribution to clean coal technology. Indeed, a number of other affluent countries would do well to do so and the world would benefit from emulating our record. However, the Government's targets are ambitious. Not all British projects are dispatched effectively. I think, for example, of the repairs to the escalator on the Victoria line at King's Cross Station which seem to be taking a long time. If some of our renewable projects took as long as that, we should be in dire straits in fulfilling our obligations. But I am more optimistic about that.
We must consider that, although we have seen enormous reductions in the British mining industry, that which remains is exceedingly successful. The latest production figures for Richard Budge's pits--he owns the vast majority of them, as the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, will be aware--build on the contribution that the National Coal Board made under his chairmanship. The productivity rates are astonishing. Some coal faces produce 7,000 tonnes of coal a shift. A coal face maintained at that level would be a super-pit, with a 2 million tonne level of production.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, will recall our slight exchange last week on this. I have never been in favour of burning coal in a filthy manner. I am in favour of clean coal technology. I was bitterly critical of the previous administration, who put an end to substantial research. That research should be renewed with vigour because, although we may be reducing our coal burn and no longer puffing out noxious gases into the environment, making those changes will do us and the globe very little good if other huge coal-producing countries continue the practices that we have stopped. Given the amount of coal that will be burned in China, India and a number of other countries over the next five or 10 years, the world is clearly crying out for the new technology. We have a commercial opportunity to develop clean coal technology rapidly in Britain. It would be very useful for us and there would be international opportunities.
The other reason for the Government to take a favourable view on the issue is to ensure a belt and braces approach. I am more optimistic than some in the Opposition about the development of some renewables, but that could take a little time. If it takes a little longer than the Government and the industry hope, there may well be a tendency, as the target dates are reached, to take an excessively generous view of particular approaches to renewable production. It should be possible to move rapidly on biomass and we ought to make a more vigorous effort to harness the power of water, but I am uneasy about wind, largely because, although a great deal is said about it, the amount of energy produced by the wind farms now operating is surprisingly small. I pointed out in the House last week a proposed wind farm near the Yorkshire coast which would not go down well with most local people, would not enhance our landscape and would produce as much energy in a year as Drax power station, which is fitted with flue gas desulphurisation, produces in six days.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, referred to planning consent. Those of us who have lived in coalfield areas know that in the 1980s the previous government virtually forced local authorities in areas where there were coal reserves to give planning permission for opencast mining. That caused enormous fury. As deep mined pits were closed, local people had to put up with opencast mining. I am not saying that there is no role for it--it has cleared a lot of dereliction in South Yorkshire--but no government of whatever complexion should seek to ride roughshod over the local population on issues such as wind farms. There may be a place for them offshore and onshore. But as a conservationist, I find the prospect of seeing huge numbers of birds destroyed by the windmill, as would certainly happen because of the sucking-in action which would develop, distasteful. If those windmills are built on lines of migration, the slaughter would be distasteful, especially given the relatively low energy yield which would then result.
Baroness Buscombe: I rise to speak to Amendment No. 241. That amendment concerns the granting of power to the Secretary of State to make different orders for different classes of supplier. We propose here that that power should be invoked only in a way which will not distort competition.
Lord Ezra: I support the two amendments dealt with so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath. In fact, I have a later amendment which deals with the same subject. It may be for the convenience of the Committee, and perhaps abbreviate the time that we must spend, if I deal now with that too.
I agree entirely with the thrust of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, as regards clean coal technology. We have a very successful coal enterprise. It is much reduced compared with earlier days; nevertheless, it is successful and efficient. We have massive coal reserves and there are even greater coal reserves in the Far East and other developing countries.
The Government have recently provided much needed short-term support for the coal industry. But long-term support must also be provided. That should take the form of stimulating the development of clean coal technology which can be done only if contracts are placed for that technology. Therefore, I fully support the case which has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, that that should be included in the obligation.
Techniques for clean coal technology have been successfully proven in laboratories, and some countries--not Great Britain, unfortunately--have development plants in operation. We really need to get such plants going. I have been working for many years to bring that about. While at the coal board, I gave support to the Grimethorpe project in the 1970s, which some may remember, which was subsequently closed down.
The Utilities Bill provides a further opportunity for creating the circumstances which could lead to one or more clean coal projects in the UK. Unless there is specific support for those projects or there is a commitment to take their production, they will not come about.
The problem for Britain will become very serious when the nuclear plants are closed down (in the period 2010-20); the whole balance of CO 2 emissions will be altered by that fact. We must prepare for that now. We should be developing all the resources we can. The noble Lord, Lord Hardy, is absolutely right. While everything possible is being done to develop other renewable sources, we have here potential for the coal industry to make its contribution so long as the technologies can be developed.
So I should like to ask the Government to consider the problem in this context. I do not suppose for one minute that the amendments that the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, and I have moved this evening will be agreed; we merely put down a marker. We say, "This is an issue which should be further considered". This is one of the remaining opportunities for introducing a new technology into coal usage. I very much hope that, one way or another, we shall seize it.
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